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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Eagle's Heart - Part 3 - Chapter 17. Mose Returns To Wagon Wheel
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The Eagle's Heart - Part 3 - Chapter 17. Mose Returns To Wagon Wheel Post by :Michael_LI Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :1289

Click below to download : The Eagle's Heart - Part 3 - Chapter 17. Mose Returns To Wagon Wheel (Format : PDF)

The Eagle's Heart - Part 3 - Chapter 17. Mose Returns To Wagon Wheel

PART III CHAPTER XVII. MOSE RETURNS TO WAGON WHEEL

As Mose threw the rope over the bald-faced pinto the boys all chuckled and drew near, for they knew the character of the horse. Reynolds had said, "Take your pick o' the bunch," and Mose, with the eye of a horseman, had roped the pinto because of his size, depth of chest, and splendid limbs.

As he was leading his captive out of the bunch the cook said to Mose, "Better not take that pinto; he's mean as a hornet."

"Is his wind all right?"

"He's one o' the best horses on the range, all right, but he shore is mean all the way through. He always pitches at the start like he was fair crazy."

"Does he go when he gets through?" asked Mose of Reynolds.

"Yes, he's a good traveler."

"I don't want to be delayed, that's all. If he'll go, I'll stay by him."

The boys nudged elbows while Mose threw the saddle on the cringing brute and cinched it till the pinto, full of suffering, drew great, quiet gulps of breath and groaned. Swift, practiced, relentless, Mose dragged at the latigo till the wide hair web embedded itself in the pony's hide. Having coiled the rope neatly out of the way, while the broncho stood with drooping head but with a dull red flame in his eyes, Mose flung the rein over the pony's head. Then pinto woke up. With a mighty sidewise bound he attempted to leave his rider, but Mose, studiedly imperturbable, with left hand holding the reins and right hand grasping the pommel, went with him as if that were the ordinary way of mounting. Immense power was in the stiff-legged leaping of the beast. His body seemed a ball of coiled steel springs. His "watch-eye" rolled in frenzy. It seemed he wished to beat his head against his rider's face and kill him. He rushed away with a rearing, jerking motion, in a series of jarring bounds, snapping his rider like the lash of a whip, then stopped suddenly, poised on his fore feet, with devilish intent to discharge Mose over his head. With the spurs set deep into the quivering painted hide of his mount Mose began plying the quirt like a flail. The boys cheered and yelled with delight. It was one of their chief recreations, this battle with a pitching broncho.

Suddenly the desperate beast paused and, rearing recklessly high in the air, fell backward hoping to crush his rider under his saddle. In the instant, while he towered, poised in the air, Mose shook his right foot free of the stirrup and swung to the left and alighted on his feet, while the fallen horse, stunned by his own fall, lay for an instant, groaning and coughing. Under the sting of the quirt, he scrambled to his feet only to find his inexorable rider again on his back, with merciless spurs set deep in the quick of his quivering sides. With a despairing squeal he set off in a low, swift, sidewise gallop, and for nearly an hour drummed along the trail, up hill and down, the foam mingling with the yellow dust on his heaving flanks.

When the broncho's hot anger had cooled, Mose gave him his head, and fell to thinking upon the future. He had been more than eight years in the range and on the trail and all he owned in the world was a saddle, a gun, a rope, and a horse. The sight of Cora, the caressing of little Pink, and Mary's letter had roused in him a longing for a wife and a shanty of his own.

The grass was getting sere, there was new-fallen snow on Lizard Head, and winter was coming. He had the animal's instinct to den up, to seek winter quarters. Certain ties other than those of Mary's love combined to draw him back to Marmion for the winter. If he could only shake off his burdening notoriety and go back to see her--to ask her advice--perhaps she could aid him. But to _sneak back again--to crawl about in dark corners--that was impossible.

He was no longer the frank and boyish lover of adventure. Life troubled him now, conduct was become less simple, actions each day less easily determined. These women now made him ponder. Cora, who was accustomed to the range and whose interests were his own in many ways, the princess, whose money and influence could get him something to do in Wagon Wheel, and Mary, whose very name made him shudder with remembered adoration--each one now made him think. Mary, of all the group, was most certainly unfitted to share his mode of life, and yet the thought of her made the others impossible to him.

The marshal saw him ride up the street and throw himself from his horse before the post office and hastened toward him with his hand extended. "Hello! Mose, I've got a telegram for you from Sweetwater."

Mose took it without a word and opened it. It was from his father: "Wait for me in Wagon Wheel. I am coming."

The marshal was grinning. "Did you see the write-up in yesterday's Mother Lode?"

"Yes--I saw it, and cussed you for it."

"I knowd you would, but I couldn't help it. Billy, the editor, got hold of me and pumped the whole story out of me before I knew it. I don't think it does you any harm."

"It didn't do me any good," replied Mose shortly.

"Say, the princess wants to see you. She's on the street somewhere now, looking for you."

"Where's the telegraph office?" he abruptly asked.

The telegram from his father had put the idea into his head to communicate in that way with Mary and Jack.

The marshal led the way to a stage office wherein stood a counter and a row of clicking machines.

"What is the cost of a telegram to Marmion, Iowa?" asked Mose.

"One dollar, ten words. Each ad----"

Mose thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out all his money, a handful of small change. His face grew bitter, his last dollar was broken into bits.

"Make it night rates for sixty," said the operator. "Be delivered to-morrow morning."

"Go ahead," said Mose, and set to work to compose a message. The marshal, with unexpected delicacy, sauntered out into the street.

Now that he was actually face to face with the problem of answering Mary's letter in ten words the youth's hand refused to write, and he stood looking at the yellow slip of paper with an intensity that was comical to the clerk. Plainly this cowboy was not accustomed to telegraphing.

Mose felt the waiting presence of the clerk and said:

"Can I set down here and think it over?"

"Why sure, take a seat at that table over there."

Under the pressure of his emotion Mose wrote "Dear Mary" and stopped. The chap at the other end of the line would read that and comment on it. He struck that out. Then it occurred to him that if he signed it "Harry" _this operator would marvel, and if he signed "Mose" the other end of the line would wonder. He rose, crushing the paper in his hand, and went out into the street. There was only one way--to write.

This he did standing at the ink-bespattered shelf which served as writing desk in the post office.


"DEAR MARY: I have just received your letter. It's a little late but perhaps it ain't too late. Anyhow, I'm banking on this finding you just the same as when you wrote. I wish I could visit you again but I'm afraid I couldn't do it a second time without being recognized, but write to me at once, and, if you say come, I'll come. I am poorer than I was four years ago, but I've been on the trail, I know the mountains now. There's no other place for me, but I get lonesome sometimes when I think of you. I'm no good at writing letters--can't write as well as I could when I was twenty, so don't mind my short letter, but if I could see you! Write at once and I'll borrow or steal enough money to pay my way to you--I don't expect to ever see you out here in the West."


While still pondering over his letter he heard the rustle of a woman's dress and turned to face the princess, in magnificent attire, her gloved hand extended toward him, her face radiant with pleasure.

"Why, my dear boy, where have you been?"

Mose shook hands, his letter to Mary (still unsealed) in his left hand. "Been down on the range," he mumbled in profound embarrassment.

She assumed a girlish part. "But you _promised to come and see me."

He turned away to seal his letter and she studied him with admiring eyes. He was so interesting in his boyish confusion--graceful in spite of his irrelevant movements, for he was as supple, as properly poised, and as sinewy as a panther.

"You're a great boy," she said to him when he came back. "I like you, I want to do something for you. Get into my carriage, and let me tell you of some plans."

He looked down at his faded woolen shirt and lifted his hand to his greasy sombrero. "Oh, no! I can't do that."

She laughed. "You ought to be able to stand it if I can. I'd be rather proud of having 'Black Mose' in my carriage."

"I guess not," he said. There was a cadence in these three words to which she bowed her head. She surrendered her notion quickly.

"Come down to the Palace with me."

"All right, I'll do that," he replied without interest.

"Meet me there in half an hour."

"All right."

"Good-by till then."

He did not reply but took her extended hand, while the young fellow in the postal cage grinned with profound appreciation. After the princess went out this clerk said, "Pard, you've struck it rich."

Mose turned and his eyebrows lowered dangerously. "Keep to your letter punchin', young feller, and you'll enjoy better health."

Those who happened to be standing in the room held their breath, for in that menacing, steady glare they recognized battle.

The clerk gasped and stammered, "I didn't mean anything."

"That's all right. You're lately from the East, or you wouldn't get gay with strangers in this country. See if there is any mail for Mose Harding--or Harry Excell."

"Sorry, sir--nothing for Mr. Harding, nothing for Mr. Excell."

Mose turned back to the desk and scrawled a short letter to Jack Burns asking him to let him know at once where Mary was, and whether it would be safe for him to visit her.

As he went out in the street to mount his horse the marshal met him again, and Mose, irritated and hungry, said sharply:

"See here, pardner, you act most cussedly like a man keeping watch on me."

The marshal hastened to say, "Nothing of the kind. I like you, that's all. I want to talk with you--in fact I'm under orders from the princess to help you get a job if you want one. I've got an offer now. The Express Company want you to act as guard between here and Canon City. Pay is one hundred dollars a month, ammunition furnished."

Mose threw out his hand. "I'll do it--take it all back."

The marshal shook hands without resentment, considering the apology ample, and together they sauntered down the street.

"Now, pardner, let me tell you how I size up the princess. She's a good-hearted woman as ever lived, but she's a little off color with the women who run the church socials here. She's a rippin' good business woman, and her luck beats h--l. Why last week she bought a feller's claim in fer ten thousand dollars and yesterday they tapped a vein of eighty dollar ore, runnin' three feet wide. She don't haff to live here--she's worth a half million dollars--but she likes mining and she likes men. She knows how to handle 'em too--as you'll find out. She's hail-fellow with us all--but I tell ye she's got to like a feller all through before he sees the inside of her parlor. She's stuck on you. We're good friends--she come to call on my wife yesterday, and she talked about you pretty much the hull time. I never saw her worse bent up over a man. I believe she'd marry you, Mose, I do."

"Takes two for a bargain of that kind," said Mose.

The marshal turned. "But, my boy, that means making you a half owner of all she has--why that last mine may go to a million within six months."

"That's all right," Mose replied, feeling the intended good will of the older man. "But I expect to find or earn my own money. I can't marry a woman fifteen years older'n I am for her money. It ain't right and it ain't decent, and you'll oblige me by shutting up all such talk."

The sheriff humbly sighed. "She is a good deal older, that's a fact--but she's took care of herself. Still, as you say, it's none o' my business. If she can't persuade you, I can't. Come in, and I'll introduce you to the managers of the National----"

"Can't now, I will later."

"All right, so long! Come in any time."

Mose stepped into a barber shop to brush up a little, for he had acquired a higher estimate of the princess, and when he entered the dining room of the Palace he made a handsome figure. Whatever he wore acquired distinction from his beauty. His hat, no matter how stained, possessed charm. His dark shirt displayed the splendid shape of his shoulders, and his cartridge belt slanted across his hip at just the right angle.

The woman waiting for him smiled with an exultant glint in her half-concealed eyes.

"Sit there," she commanded, pointing at a chair. "Two beers," she said to the waiter.

Mose took the chair opposite and looked at her smilelessly. He waited for her to move.

"Ever been East--Chicago, Washington?"

"No."

"Want to go?"

"No."

She smiled again. "Know anything about mining?"

"Not a thing."

She looked at him with a musing, admiring glance. "I've got a big cattle ranch--will you superintend it for me?"

"Where is it?"

She laughed and stammered a little. "Well--I mean I've been thinking of buying one. I'm kind o' tired of these mining towns; I believe I'd like to live on a ranch, with you to superintend it."

His face darkened again, and she hastened to say, "The cattle business is going to boom again soon. They're all dropping out of it fast, but _now is the time to get in and buy."

The beer came and interrupted her. "Here's to good luck," she said. They drank, and as she daintily touched her lips with her handkerchief she lifted her eyes to him again--strange eyes with lovely green and yellow and pink lights in them not unlike some semi-precious stones.

"You don't like me," she said. "Why won't you let me help you?"

"You want a square-toed answer?" he asked grimly, looking her steadily in the eyes.

She paled a little. "Yes."

"There is a girl in Iowa--I make it my business to work for her."

Her eyes fell and her right hand slowly turned the mug around and around. When she looked up she seemed older and her eyes were sadder. "That need make no difference."

"But it does," he said slowly. "It makes all the difference there is."

She became suddenly very humble. "You misunderstand me--I mean, I'll help you both. How do you expect to live?"

His eyes fell now. He flushed and shifted uneasily in his chair. "I don't know." Then he unbent a little in saying, "That's what's bothering me right now."

She pursued her advantage. "If you marry you've got to quit all this trail business."

"Dead sure thing! And that scares me too. I don't know how I'd stand being tied down to a stake."

She laid a hand on his arm. "Now see here, Mose, you let me help you. You know all about cattle and the trail, you can shoot and throw a rope, but you're a babe at lots of other things. You've got to get to work at something, settle right down, and dig up some dust. Now isn't that so?"

"I reckon that's the size of it."

It was singular how friendly she now seemed in his eyes. There was something so frank and gentle in her voice (though her eyes remained sinister) that he began almost to trust her.

"Well, now, I tell you what you can do. You take the job I got for you with the Express Company and I'll look around and corral something else for you."

He could not refuse to take her hand upon this compact. Then she said with an attempt to be careless, "Have you a picture of this girl? I'd like to see how she looks."

His face darkened again. "No," he said shortly, "I never had one of her."

She recognized his unwillingness to say more.

"Well, good-by, come and see me."

He parted from her with a sense of having been unnecessarily harsh with a woman who wished to be his good friend.

He was hungry and that made him think of his horse which he returned to at once. After watering and feeding his tired beast he turned in at a coffeehouse and bought a lunch--not being able to afford a meal. Everywhere he went men pointed a timid or admiring thumb at him. They were unobtrusive about it, but it annoyed him at the moment. His mind was too entirely filled with perplexities to welcome strangers' greetings. "I _must earn some money," was the thought which brought with it each time the offer of the Express Company. He determined each time to take it although it involved riding the same trail over and over again, which made him shudder to think of. But it was three times the pay of a cowboy and a single month of it would enable him to make his trip to the East.

After his luncheon he turned in at the office and sullenly accepted the job. "You're just the man we need," said the manager. "We've had two or three hold-ups here, but with you on the seat I shall feel entirely at ease. Marshal Haney has recommended you--and I know your record as a daring man. Can you go out to-morrow morning?"

"Quicker the better."

"I'd like to have you sleep here in the office. I'll see that you have a good bed."

"Anywhere."

After Mose went out the manager winked at the marshal and said:

"It's a good thing to have him retained on our side. He'd make a bad man on the hold-up side."

"Sure thing!" replied Haney.

While loitering on a street corner still busy with his problems Mose saw a tall man on a fine black horse coming down the street. The rider slouched in his saddle like a tired man but with the grace of a true horseman. On his bushy head sat a wide soft hat creased in the middle. His suit was brown corduroy.

Mose thought, "If that bushy head was not so white I should say it was father's. It _is father!"

He let him pass, staring in astonishment at the transformation in the minister. "Well, well! the old man has woke up. He looks the real thing, sure."

A drum struck up suddenly and the broncho (never too tired to shy) gave a frenzied leap. The rider went with him, reins in hand, heels set well in, knees grasping the saddle.

Mose smiled with genuine pleasure. "I didn't know he could ride like that," and he turned to follow with a genuine interest.

He came up to Mr. Excell just as the marshal stepped out of the crowd and accosted him. For the first time in his life Mose was moved to joke his father.

"Marshal, that man is a dangerous character. I know him; put him out."

The father turned and a smile lit his darkly tanned face. "Harry----"

Mose made a swift sign, "Old man, how are ye?" The minister's manner pleased his son. He grasped his father's hand with a heartiness that checked speech for the moment, then he said, "I was looking for you. Where you from?"

"I've got a summer camp between here and the Springs. I saw the notice of you in yesterday's paper. I've been watching the newspapers for a long time, hoping to get some word of you. I seized the first chance and came on."

Mose turned. "Marshal, I'll vouch for this man; he's an old neighbor of mine."

Mr. Excell slipped to the ground and Mose took the rein on his arm. "Come, let's put the horse with mine." They walked away, elbow to elbow. A wonderful change had swept over Mr. Excell. He was brown, alert, and vigorous--but more than all, his eyes were keen and cheerful and his smile ready and manly.

"You're looking well," said the son.

"I _am well_. Since I struck the high altitudes I'm a new man. I don't wonder you love this life."

"Are you preaching?"

"Yes, I speak once a week in the Springs. I ride down the trail from my cabin and back again the same day. The fact is I stayed in Rock River till I was nearly broken. I lost my health, and became morbid, trying to preach to the needs of the old men and women of my congregation. Now I am free. I am back to the wild country. Of course, so long as my wife lived I couldn't break away, but now I have no one but myself and my needs are small. I am happier than I have been for years."

As they walked and talked together the two men approached an understanding. Mr. Excell felt sure of his son's interest, for the first time in many years, and avoided all terms of affection. In his return to the more primitive, bolder life he unconsciously left behind him all the "soft phrases" which had disgusted his son. He struck the right note almost without knowing it, and the son, precisely as he perceived in his father a return to rugged manliness, opened his hand to him.

Together they took care of the horse, together they walked the streets. They sat at supper together and the father's joy was very great when at night they camped together and Mose so far unbent as to tell of his adventures. He did not confide his feeling for Mary--his love was far too deep for that. A strange woman had reached it by craft, a father's affection failed of it.

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